Old English sheepdog

22 07, 2019

Doggie Love

By |2019-07-21T20:37:50-05:00July 22nd, 2019|A Writer's Life|6 Comments

Finnegan loves me. How do I know?

I actually considered his actions of leaning on me, staring at me, and dropping his head into my lap when least expected to be very annoying.

After reading “5 Signs of Deep Affection You Won’t Want to Ignore” in my August issue of Your Dog, newsletter of Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, I changed my opinion.

In case you have a loving dog like our Finn, I thought I’d share what I learned.

~Leaning

This is a clear signal your dog feels special about you.

Our Finn will sit on our feet leaning his head back to be petted. He weighs ninety pounds which gets heavy after a while and we must use the enough command. He trots off to sit in front of the nearest fan content with whatever petting he gets.

Knowing he’s really letting me see how special I am to him, I might let him sit on my feet a bit longer next time.

~Eye contact or staring

Doggy direct eye contact is normally used for threats or aggression. But, if your dog makes direct eye contact with you like our Finn does, he’s acknowledging what a cherished connection you share.

Staring releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone that new mothers experience when they first hold their newborns, into a dog’s brain. Looking back into their eyes releases the same hormone to your brain.

I often catch Finn staring. Now I know he’s not challenging me, I’ll smile back.

~Dropping his head in our laps

Veterinarians call this docking. Not clipping the tail, but more like a space capsule reconnecting to the mother ship.  Finn’s saying “I need warmth; I need closeness.”

While we’re watching television, Finn will jump on the couch and plop his head in my lap. I accuse him of deliberately aggravating his Maltese brother who always occupies my lap when I sit and doesn’t like to share. I pet Finn for a bit and he jumps down content to let Buster have my lap.

It’s good to know Finn’s not being obnoxious when he leans, stares or docks. He’s saying “I love you.”

So is your dog.

From now on, I’ll return the sentiment with soft strokes and loving words. I know I feel bad when I say I love you and I don’t hear the words returned.

29 05, 2019

Flower Quotes – Lady Bird Johnson

By |2019-05-09T11:30:14-05:00May 29th, 2019|#wordlesswednesday, Wednesday Quote, Weekly Quote|4 Comments


About the Image: Finnegan MacCool in the wildflowers taken along a Texas hill country road.  As Lady Bird Johnson and her husband, Lyndon Johnson, crisscrossed American on the campaign trail, she saw the opportunity for roadside restoration to bring regional identity to areas that otherwise might be lined with billboards and invasive species.Thanks to their Highway Beautification Act of 1965 drives along highways in the springtime do offer opportunities to stop and snap pictures and be touched by regional flowers.

9 07, 2018

Do you talk to things that can’t talk back?

By |2018-07-08T17:40:49-05:00July 9th, 2018|A Writer's Life, Make Me Think Monday, Writer's Life|1 Comment

I talk to my dogs, my plants, my car, and lots of things that can’t talk back.

It’s anthropomorphizing—a big word that means attaching human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities.

Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago and anthropomorphism expert says:

“Historically, anthropomorphizing has been treated as a sign of childishness or stupidity, but it’s actually a natural byproduct of the tendency that makes humans uniquely smart on this planet. No other species has this tendency.”

Why and how humans have this ability can’t be fully explained because our brains are so very complicated. Finding human characteristics in inanimate objects signals the brain’s creativity at work.

Anthropomorphizing is also part of our nature. We are social animals. We want to befriend everyone we meet, give them a name, or have them give us their name, and talk to them.

If you saw the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks’ beloved best friend was Wilson, a volleyball with a face. If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s a great film.

Around my house, my vacuum cleaner is Ugh-glow, my canning strainer Shirley, and the metal art dragon in my yard is Custard. My houseplants have names too and sometimes they even perk up with a pep talk.

My Old English sheepdog Finnegan MacCool and I communicate well. So does his older brother, our Maltese Buster.

I ask them if they’re hungry as I pour the food into their bowls or if they want to go play outside. I tell them to keep the giraffes away from the house when I leave and say “I’ll be back soon” as I walk out the door.

Fellow pet owners will relate. Others think I’ve gone cuckoo.

That’s okay. I take comfort in Epley’s words. Anthropomorphizing is superior intellect and creativity showing forth.

Do you have any inanimate friends you have anthropomorphized?

17 04, 2017

A Writer’s Dilemma – Drama and Suffering

By |2017-04-16T18:25:03-05:00April 17th, 2017|Make Me Think Monday|1 Comment

We all dislike negative, unhappy things aka drama.

Who wants to suffer and be unhappy? I sure don’t.

But – reality is drama, though unwelcomed most of the time, is what life is all about.

Our puppy’s reaction to hearing thunder for the first time.

Happy drama is a very different thing.

I love the drama our new Old English Sheepdog added to our world. If you’ve ever had a puppy, you can relate. He changed our lives dramatically while adding so much laughter and love.

As a writer, I have such a difficult time being hard on my characters. I don’t want them to suffer or be unhappy. Unfortunately, that makes for a dull, uninteresting story. Drama is an integral part of real life so fictional characters must suffer.

After attending the BONI Intensive Seminars where Donald Maass stresses Tension (drama) on every page to engage readers fully, I finally understood the need to create more suffering for my fictional characters.

Readers expect drama and want to become emotionally involved with our characters. When drama and suffering are absent, readers fail to connect with our characters. They won’t read our books.

If you need a nudge to add drama to your writing (as I did), let me suggest:

1. Read The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass
2. Attend a Breakout Novel Intensive Seminar
3. Visit One Stop for Writers website where you’ll find loads of resources like The Emotion Thesaurus

And, just for fun here’s some video inspiration on how to add  drama to a dull scene:

12 12, 2016

Christmas Trees – the custom and traditions

By |2016-11-30T08:48:45-06:00December 12th, 2016|Holidays, Make Me Think Monday|0 Comments

A small tabletop tree with candles stands as a tribute to our German grandfather’s ancestry. A hand sewnSt. Nicholas doll stands beside the tree.

The tradition of putting up and decorating a Christmas tree began in Germany in the 16th century.

Legend has it that Protestant reformer Martin Luther, who was awed by the brilliance of twinkling stars amidst evergreens on a nighttime walk, wired candles to Christmas tree branches to recapture the scene.

The idea of a decorated Christmas tree was slow to gain popularity in Puritan America. Puritans held to a strict sacred observation of Christmas. In fact, in 1659, hanging decorations brought fines for breaking the law against observance of December 25 (other than a church service).

The Puritan legacy diminished with the influx of German and Irish immigrants and Christmas trees became the focal point of those who celebrate Christmas in America.

Thinking about Christmas trees from childhood is sure to stir a bit of nostalgia.

I can remember piling into the family station wagon and driving into the Texas hill country to cut the perfect tree. We’d sing Christmas carols and eat a picnic lunch. Fun times.

I’d stare for hours at the icicles reflecting in the multi-colored bulbs then beg to be in charge of cutting off the lights before bedtime so I could stay up late.  I might add that those icicles had to hang single strand over single branches. Daddy was always watching to be sure.

Once I married and we had our own tree, I’d planned to throw the icicles haphazardly on the tree. Somehow, it didn’t look right. Or maybe it was Daddy’s voice echoing in my head.

Christmas trees continue to play an important role in our holiday decorating.

In Houston, we placed multiple trees around our Victorian home. Most were artificial and each tree had its own theme.

For years we’ve collected White House and Texas Capitol ornaments. Those collections hang on gold-branched display trees every year.

With the Rio Grande National Forest as our backyard, we can secure a permit, take a short hike, and have a fresh cut tree whenever we’re ready to decorate.

I do miss all the little helpers I had in years past. Putting gumdrops on the gumdrop tree by myself (a tradition from my Irish grandmother)  isn’t the same.

gumdroptreeThis year our new four-legged baby, Finnegan MacCool will be helping, which may or may not be a good thing.stockinghelp

Here’s Finn helping me make a Christmas stocking for the newest family member-our granddaughter’s new husband.

Should be fun time decorating the Christmas tree this year with an Old English sheepdog puppy. At five months everything is a chew toy.

How’s the decorating going at your place? Is a Christmas tree part of your holiday tradition?

26 09, 2016

They Steal Our Hearts and then …

By |2016-09-19T09:33:45-05:00September 26th, 2016|Make Me Think Monday|1 Comment

We lose them.

If you’ve owned a dog, you know what I mean. You invest time, energy, money, and love. They fill your heart to overflowing, yours day with laughter. Then one day your beloved pet journeys over the Rainbow Bridge.

From the moment you pick up that fluffy little ball of fur, your head recognizes a dog’s life span just isn’t the same as yours. Yet, for some reason your hearts refuse to acknowledge what your head knows and when the time comes your heart cracks into a bazillion pieces.

2016-collage-croppedI know. Mine did when we lost our beloved Toby this summer.

Toby was our fourth Old English sheepdog. Obadiah, Micah, and Rhinestone met him on the bridge. So did Lucky, Azariah, Bernie, and Scuttles, our little mixed breed babies.

Toby left behind two very, very sad and lonely humans, and his four-legged pal, Buster.

Even though losing is pet is part of owning a pet, the goodbyes never get easy. The separation is hard no matter how many times you go through it.

stone-croppedWe coped in different ways with each loss. This time we have a memorial stone (from a friend who loved Toby as much as we did) to place in Toby’s favorite spot on the front porch.

Our grieve is the same as when we lose a human loved one or friend. Time will heal the sadness we hear, we know. That doesn’t stop the tears.

We move on one day at a time. Some days are better than others.

On those not so good days, we focus on the fun times: the long walks, the snuggles, the tug-of-wars, all the comical things Old English are known for…

And, quietly hope that one day another Old English sheepdog puppy will appear to steal our heart, and we can start the journey all over again.

1 09, 2014

Naming Children, Pets, and Characters

By |2014-09-01T06:00:31-05:00September 1st, 2014|Make Me Think Monday, Uncategorized|0 Comments

NamingA person’s name has power and all sorts of things should be considered when naming a child, a pet, or a character in a book.

But choosing the perfect name isn’t easy.

After three children, eight dogs, and multiple characters in my novels, I should know.

Back when my husband and I were choosing children’s names, we didn’t have an option to know the sex. You had to come up with a male and a female name. It took us the full nine months during each pregnancy.

In fact, when our second child came early, we really had no names picked out and it looked like he’d go home from the hospital as Baby Boy.

Totally not acceptable.

We finally agreed on his daddy’s name and his great-granddaddy’s for a middle name. Ultimately, we used the initials to avoid the confusion of two people with the same name.

???????????????????????????????Coming up with pet names was relatively easy.

We chose the common names like Lucky and Buster. Our Old English sheepdogs we gave Biblical names: Obadiah, Micah, Rhinestone, and Tobias.

Okay, Rhinestone isn’t in the Bible, but Tobias comes from the Old Testament. Rhinestone was our rescue OES and came with her name. We didn’t want to cause her more stress by changing her name to Esther.

Naming characters for the stories I write isn’t much easier than naming children or dogs.

Sometimes authors use A & B for their character names and fill-in names later using the search and replace function in their word processor. Others change their character’s names during the editing stage.

I can’t do that. I name  my characters before I write a single word. Their names give them personalities, and they become bona fide people to me.

There are all sorts of things to consider when naming a child. Here’s a list of twenty-five in case you’re interested.

There are also guidelines for naming pets. Check here.

I use many of those rules when naming my book characters. Chiefly, I consider these questions.

  • Is the name easily pronounceable or sounded out without difficulty?
  • Do the first name and surname sound good together?
  • Do the names start with the same letter or sound similar? (It may be clever in a family setting to have all the kids names begin with the same letter, but similar sounding names can lead to confusion for readers.)

When I’m coming up with names, I also

  • Consider the number of syllables and vary the number in each characters’ names.
  • Choose names appropriate for the story setting, era, and genre.
  • Avoid names of friends and family members.
  • Make the name fit the story and the personality of the character.

Finding the perfect name is not easy. I have been known to change a character’s name, but not often. Once in book sequel, I killed off a character because I no longer liked her name. It’s one of the perks of being a writer. I get to kill off people. 🙂

How’d you come up with the name you chose for you child, pet or character in your book? Any hints you’d like to offer on choosing names?

28 07, 2014

Four Lessons from My Canine Pals

By |2014-07-28T06:00:36-05:00July 28th, 2014|Make Me Think Monday|0 Comments

???????????????????????????????Our Old English sheepdog came to us nine years ago at age nine weeks. Our bond was instant.

He’s been my best friend and trusty companion ever since. He’s constantly by my side. Sleeping in the keyhole of my desk does get a bit crowded sometimes. He didn’t stay eleven pounds for very long.toby under desk

When Toby was five, Buster joined our family. (He’s stayed at eleven pounds.)buster arrives

We inherited the little Maltese from my daughter and, since the dogs had spent time together at family gatherings, we didn’t have issues when Buster came to live with us permanently.

Well, not major issues. There is the problem of rawhide bones.

Toby will NOT share and Buster constantly steals the well-chewed and moist pieces. If Toby catches him, there’s gnarling and snapping, but never ever any contact. It’s as though Toby knows he could hurt the littler dog.

When Toby realizes a bone has being stolen, he asks me to return his property. (Yep, Toby and I talk to one another.)

Then Buster, with his Napoleonic complex, goes after his much bigger brother as though to eat him alive…again Toby ignores him and settles with his repossessed bone.

Buster and Toby have bonded and rely on one another after four years. toby and busterWatching the two dogs together has taught me some important lessons.

Be Loyal (but not to a fault)

Dogs are loyal. That’s what they do, who they are. We’ve all seen the pictures and read stories like the heartwarming story of the Labrador Retriever who famously laid down next to the coffin of his US soldier human.

Loyalty can be a huge asset, but my canine boys have taught me blind loyalty is foolish.

Walking is our ritual. Three times a day we hike around the area. I always do the early morning sunrise walk, but if I’m on deadline or absorbed in writing, those noontime and evening walks aren’t going to happen. They might prefer my company, but necessity dictates they have to go with whoever is available.

That can happen in our human lives too. Loyalty is definitely an asset, but often we have to do what it takes to get the job done.

Trust your instincts.

I see this principle often when I walk the dogs. Both will react if they deem someone or some animal we meet along our way as threatening.

Toby is allowed to determine our routes. Sometimes we go the short way, sometimes we walk for five miles, and sometimes we don’t leave the porch.

I trust him. There might be a bear or coyote lurking that I can’t see.

In life, we have to trust instincts too. Sure, it’s important to take time to listen to others’ input. But in the end, we should heed our gut instincts.

Know what you want and be super persistent about securing it.

Dogs know persistence pays.

Consider the last time your dog sat beside you through an entire meal, gazing up with Bambi eyes? Did you cave and toss a bite, impressed by his determination and patience?

Buster and Toby recline by my chair at mealtime like bookends. One on my left, one on my right. They don’t beg unless ice cream or pizza is involved. Then Toby sits in that perfect sit he never seemed to manage in dog obedience class and Buster, not to be ignored, jumps up on the edge of my chair.

I cave.

The scenario reminds me how very, very important dogged persistence can be. We should not give up on our goals.

There might be setbacks or defeats. Poor Toby and Buster don’t always get to lick the ice cream bowl especially if company’s here. Seeing a dog lick a bowl humans use tends to freak some people out. But hey, that’s what the sani-wash option on the dishwasher is for.

Even if we fail, persistence helps us learn what to do better next time or what techniques or approaches work, and what don’t.

Last, and probably the most significant, thing…

Go outside and play.

Writing is a solitary occupation. I tend to spend hour upon hour at my laptop. For Toby and Buster, it’s boring.

With technology penetrating every portion of our lives and jobs, it’s easy to be online and working 24-7. We forget the importance of refreshing our mind and body.

After a while, Toby will nudge my elbow and Buster will whine – not a pretty sound or sight, but effective – until I give up and push away from the computer, iPad, or iPhone.

I never regret spending the time with them. I return renewed and I’m not imagining the effect research suggests exercise can actually improve productivity.

What about you do you have a trusted canine companion? What lessons have you learned from your dog?

17 05, 2013

Gathering Chicks

By |2013-05-17T05:06:42-05:00May 17th, 2013|Friday on the Miller Farm, Miller Farm Friday|3 Comments

A guest blog by Chicken Wrangler Sara

Usually when you have a farm, you think of gathering eggs.  In our case, we must also gather chicks. 

First, we move the chicks out of the brooder into the small chicken yard. The chicks are understandably frightened of the big world and huddle together in a “chick pile.”

chicken pile

We have to gather them up and put them into the coop at night to keep them safe from predators like possums. 

chicken gathering

After a few nights, they get more adventurous and move from the corner of the yard to directly under the coop, which makes the nightly gathering process much more difficult. 

Eventually they get the idea that inside the coop is the place to be at night, and we simply have to close the door.

But there is the one crazy chicken who wants to live next door.  Several times, we have found her in the neighbor’s yard and must gather her back to her flock. She is smart enough to go behind the privacy fence where their dog cannot get to her. 

The first morning I went to get her, the neighbor’s dog was out so I closed the gate to the privacy fence while I gathered the chicken to take back to her place in the chicken coop yard.

Too late, I realized the fence locked from the other side and I was locked in.

There was a time in my life when I would have panicked. After running Miller farm for several years it takes more than being locked in the neighbor’s yard to fluster me!

I simply climbed up the fence and unlocked the gate.

We also have a crazy quail.  Being white, it is automatically different from all the others. A couple of weeks ago, Crazy Quail aka CQ got its wing stuck in the cage. I carefully got it unstuck and fully expected it to die. 

It didn’t, but its wing was broken and it can’t fly. Now CQ attacks whoever puts food in the cage or getting eggs out and frequently jumps out onto the ground.

 I have to gather CQ back into the cage all the time wondering why I don’t just let the crazy bird escape. I guess I feel sorry for it since it can’t really fly with the broken wing.

My parents have an Old English Sheep dog that likes to “herd” whatever is around including people. 

Toby training to herd goats.

Toby training to herd goats.

All this gathering of chicken and quail makes me wonder if we could train Toby to herd birds.

1 09, 2012

What Unending Devotion Means to Me and a great book release

By |2012-09-01T09:48:25-05:00September 1st, 2012|Uncategorized, writer, writing|8 Comments

Happy Release Day to  Jody Hedlund for Unending Devotion!

If you like historicals, you’ll love this one!

High-Stakes Drama Meets High-Tension Romance

In 1883 Michigan, Lily Young is on a mission to save her lost sister, or die trying. Heedless of the danger, her searches of logging camps lead her to Harrison and into the sights of Connell McCormick, a man doing his best to add to the hard-earned fortunes of his lumber baron father.

Posing during the day as a photographer’s assistant, Lily can’t understand why any God-fearing citizen would allow evil to persist and why men like Connell McCormick turn a blind eye to the crime rampant in the town. But Connell is boss-man of three of his father’s lumber camps in the area, and like most of the other men, he’s interested in clearing the pine and earning a profit. He figures as long as he’s living an upright life, that’s what matters.

Lily challenges everything he thought he knew, and together they work not only to save her sister but to put an end to the corruption that’s dominated Harrison for so long.

Author Bio:
Jody Hedlund is an award-winning historical romance novelist and author of the best-selling books, The Preacher’s Bride and The Doctor’s Lady. She received a bachelor’s degree from Taylor University and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin, both in Social Work. Currently she makes her home in Michigan with her husband and five busy children.

To celebrate the release of Jody’s book I’m paying tribute to my dogs who have given me their unending devotion in exchange for so little—food in their bowl and a pet on the head or rub on the belly every now and then.

My love affair with Old English Sheepdogs began with Obadiah  who never quite understood he was a dog.

My daughter treated him like the little brother she never had.

Next came Micah.

A furry bundle of energy for Christmas.

He joined my granddog Bernie, a terrier mix, who came to live with us when our son went off to seminary. Rhinestone was our rescue OES.The three of us made quite a spectacle walking in the neighborhood.

Micah, Bernie and Rhinestone

As happens with large dogs, Micah’s hips played out. We lost him and Bernie (at age 17) about the same time. Rhinestone became even more attached to me. When we emptied our house to have hardwood floors installed, I worried the stress would be too much for her.

She went to live with my sister-in-law who had never married.

Two lovely ladies who found one another.

 The two became best buds. I wrote about their story in The Dog Next Door.

For the first time ever we were dog-less.

I hated it.

It was love at first sight.

 So we found Tobias (Toby).

Helping me write.

A couple of years later Buster, a twelve pound Maltese, came to live with us.

And once again we’ve become a big happy family.

You can read all about a sister’s uneding devotion in Jody’s book. Available on Amazon.

What about about you? Do you give or receive unending devotion for someone or pet?

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